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Doctors are becoming happier with their work life

Physicians are more satisfied in their jobs, a Stanford survey finds, but they're less happy than workers in other fields.

Finally, we have some good news about physician discontent: A recent survey found they’re feeling better about their jobs than three years earlier.

About 44 percent of physicians who responded to a nationwide survey between October 2017 and March 2018 reported at least one symptom of burnout. In 2014 that number was about 54 percent.

Tait Shanafelt, MD, the director of Stanford’s WellMD Center and an advocate for physician wellness, offers some possible explanations: The unhappiest doctors have left the profession; 2014 was a bad year because of health system mergers and new administrative requirements; and, most optimistically, health care organizations are improving working conditions.

The research appears in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Shanafelt explains in our press release:

Over the last couple of years, we have begun to think about the well-being of health care professionals through the lens of the system and practice environment rather than through the lens of personal resilience. There are now large-scale national efforts as well as efforts at the institutional level in many organizations to reduce physician burnout and promote physician well-being... We can’t say for certain, but it’s looking like those efforts may be starting to make a difference.

While the downtick in burnout is encouraging, physicians are still less satisfied with work than people in other fields, even non-physician types who work long hours. Other professions showed a burnout rate of about 28 percent, a level that has held steady since 2011, when Shanafelt started conducting the triennial survey.

Not all medical specialties saw an increase in workplace happiness. Physicians in general surgery and obstetrics and gynecology reported little improvement when it comes to job burnout.

If nothing else, surveys by Shanafelt and other researchers have proven that physician burnout is a problem worth addressing.

“Anytime a study came out on physician burnout, people would say, ‘Well that’s true for all workers; everybody is stressed out; doctors are no different,’” he said. “There was a need for an ongoing nationwide study that would compare physicians with other workers in the United States.”

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